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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XII. The Gipsy's Daughter—The Fiend Unmasked—A Rom's Revenge—‘Drive Like the Devil, Tom.’

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Chapter XII. The Gipsy's Daughter—The Fiend Unmasked—A Rom's Revenge—‘Drive Like the Devil, Tom.’

All through the watches of that weary night Eleanor sat as her husband had left her, too steeped in misery to take note of the passing hours, or even to feel, except vaguely, that they were long, until the joyous trilling of the lark announced the birth of a new day. Then, as if awakening from a stupor, she rose wearily, and dragging herself to a window, looked out upon the delicate beauty of the summer dawn, the minutes later, hooded and cloaked, she was treading the bye path which led to the tent of the gipsy.

‘You were abroad betimes this morning, Madame. I trust no ill tidings from the amiable old dye led you to abridge your rest.’

They had met, the Count and Countess, at luncheon, he suave, smiling, the pink of French politese; she pale and hollow-eyed, but openly contemptuous. She vouchsafed no reply to his observation, though her eye met his in involuntary surprise, whereat he leered maliciously. At the conclusion of the meal he offered his arm saying:

‘Permit me, Madame. I would do myself the honour of holding a short interview with you. The journey interrupted so agreeably yesterday must be made to day, desolated though I am to tear myself. I find myself unexpectedly recalled to the continent, and desire that accounts between us may be quite settled before I go.’

She declined his assistance, and hesitated, as well she might before [gap — reason: unclear]e sinister look he bent upon her, but the futility of refusing what he would not hesitate to enforce was quickly apparent to her.

I Lead on, she said, waving her hand imperiously, ‘I will follow.’

He shrugged his shoulders, and, slightly in advance, conducted her to the library.

‘Not there! Not there!’ she exclaimed, hastily, turning deadly pale as he threw open the door. ‘Let us go anywhere but there.’ She had not entered the library since the night of her father's sudden death, a year ago, and shrank back now with a swift presage of evil.

But mocking at her distress, her husband insisted, because there they would be less liable to interruption, and once within he prevented the possibility of exit by double locking the heavy door. Flushed now, and page 59 on the defensive, she swept to the hearth and there took her stand, looking at him defiantly.

‘Permit me. Madame, to offer you a chair.’

‘Our interview need not. I suppose, be very long, sir, and I prefer to stand.’

C'est bien, Madame, but I fear you will fatigue yourself.’ Then taking up his station on the edge of the table. She looked her up and down in real or simulated admiration. She certainly had never looked handsomer, although now somewhat less plump than of yore. Excitement hail lent to her face its old glow, to her eyes their former sparkle. She was attired in an embroidered gown of soft white muslin, brought by her father from India, and its light folds, floating around her perfect form, set off to advantage her rich southern beauty.

‘Pity, ma ehire, you did not take to the boards. You would have made an admirable tragedy queen.’

‘You did not bring me here merely to insult me, I presume, sir.’

‘Far from it, Madame, but, pardieu! times have changed when a gipsy's daughter deems such a reference insulting.’

‘You deal largely in riddles, sir.’ she replied with an access of colour, ‘but as I care not for such diversion, be good enough to proceed to business.’

His laugh had a menace in it.

‘Your time has all at once become precious. Madame, yet I doubt not your little affairs can wait. But since you will have business, tell me the object of your early visit to the old Gitana14, your amiable mother.’ He fixed his glittering eyes upon her as he uttered the words, and she instantly realized that, however obtained, all the secret of her parentage, so long and carefully guarded, even from herself, was in hipossession. Evasion was useless, but without seeming to flinch, she enquired:

‘What know you of the old Gitana?’

Pardieu. Madame, nature has placed me under great obligations to her, as you shall admit presently. Meanwhile, it is enough for me that she is the mother of my fair, if not too faithful, spouse. But permit me to compliment you, ma chére, on the incomparable audacity which enabled the Irishman's rejected mistress, the daughter of the despised outcast, to mate with the representative of one of the noblest houses of la belle France. I do not lay claim to overmuch modesty myself, but I must confess such unhesitating assurance, such vaulting ambition, fairly staggers me.’

‘You forget, Monsieur, that the Irishman's mistress was not rejected.’

‘That is beside the question. She believed herself to be so, and yet she hesitated not to lay siege to the heart and entrap the person of a page 60 noble foreigner. Fic, Madame! It makes me blush for English womanhood. It does, pardieu!

Strange to any, however, the noble victim, instead of evincing the indignation proper to offended pride, seemed unaccountably amused, an ugly smile playing round his lips and lighting evilly his sardonic face.

‘You are very jocular, Monsieur. But you are pleased to forget your own part in the comedy. What must be thought of the “noble foreigner” who, for his own villainous purposes, could commit the crime of forgery with the view of ruining a woman's life?’

Pardieu! Madame, that trifle puts us more on a level, and then, as it happened, I knew the woman was but a gipsy. As I have before remarked, “All's fair in love,” but, ‘he went on with a change of tone, I had you not first played fast and loose with me, I need not have had recourse to such tacties. However,’ he added between his set teeth, ‘von know now what rejection means, and in teaching you this lesson I am partly avenged.’

‘You are enigmatical, Monsieur. If you wish, me to understand, pray be more explicit.’

‘That will I, pardieu! Learn then, Madame, that my object in wedding you was less love than vengeance. Hear you? Vengeance! I have tasted some of its sweets. I have made you feel something of what you lightly inflicted on another, regardless of his sufferings, because you deemed him of lowly birth. To-day I mean to finish the work and drink the intoxicating cup to its lregs, for, Madame, I too have gipsy blood in my veins. Ha, ha! And your mother but half suckled you if you know not that revenge inflames the Rom like wine, and once he tastes its sweetness, he stops not till blood has made him drunk. You are pale, Madame! You tremble! But you shall grow paler yet, and when I have done you will have ceased to tremble.

He had come up close to her, and as he hissed these ominous words in her car, his malignant glance transfixed her. Incapable of movement, she stood horrified, but only half comprehending, while he enjoyed his evil triumph. Presently he drew back, playing with her as a cat with a mouse, and she sank into the nearest chair.

‘Ha! C'est bien,’ he chuckled grimly. ‘In that chair Monsieur, your esteemed father, spent his last hour. You have wonderful discrimination, ma chere.’

She started to her feet, crying wildly, ‘Man or devil, who—what are you, in heaven's name?’

‘Ha! ha! I am an old acquaintance, ma chere, but in answering your question you must pardon me if I dispel some illusions. You would be divorced, Madame, for even as the divorece of a tilled personage social distinctions might still be yours, and you doubtless flatter yourself you would always have Monsieur le Capitaine to full back on. Is it not so? page 61 But you would make a grand mistake, ma chere, for with your witch mother's connivance, I have somewhat misled you, and the match with which you consoled yourself when you thought yourself jilted was less brilliant than you supposed. Moreover. I fear me the courts might pronounce our marriage illegal, and thus you would be completely compromised. The world of fashion would draw its skirts away and even le capitaine might shrink from contact with the disgraced leavings of a vagabond gipsy. You are surprised. Madame. Have you then quite forgotten the valet Jacques—Jacques who in all humility used to fetch and carry for you for the sake of the smile you bestowed so freely before the accursed captain set eyes on you?’

‘Jacques? Jacques? Jacques?’ Her eyes said it, though her lips moved not. Surprise for the moment overmastered all other feelings. She had never dreamed of this possibility. The vengeful wretch had disguised himself, acted his part so well, that never once in their intercourse had the image of the forgotten valet recurred to her memory, waking or sleeping. She could scarcely credit her senses, and involuntarily pressed her brow with a vague impression that she must be dreaming.

‘Jacques?’ she said at length. ‘You are Jacques le Blanc?’

‘Jacques le Blanc, at your service, Madame,’ he responded with a low obeisance.

‘Impostor!’ she exclaimed, indignation overpowering amazement. ‘How dared you perpetrate such villainy?’

‘Ha, ha! How dared I? What will a Rom not dare to carry out his vengeance?’

‘Upon whom, and for what, sought you vengeance?’

‘Upon three people, Madame. Upon your father and lover, who struck, and upon yourself, who discarded me for your new flame.’

‘I could not have discarded, since I was under no engagement to you.’

‘Your eyes had responded to mine. You suffered my attention, knowing well their import, until that tison d'enfer53 appeared.’

‘And think you, inhuman monster! such reasons sufficient excuse for your infamous conduct?’

Pardieu! I make no excuse. See you this hand?’ and he held that very shapely and well-cared-for member under her eyes. ‘Observe this line—’ indicating a faint scarred line running diagonally across its back.

‘That, Madame, is the indelible imprint of your lover's whip. With that line dripping blood I swore that blood alone should wipe out the insult. Your father dared also to strike me. Me! Let Gentiles use the lash upon their slaves. We gipsies, we are free. To suit our purpose we can smile and fawn, but he who strikes us does so at his peril. That night I swore by the Gentile's God to be avenged upon those who had insulted me, and upon you, the light cause of my disgrace. Now page break
He drew from his breast a gleaming stiletto54, and swiftly upraising his right arm, brought it down upon her heart

He drew from his breast a gleaming stiletto54, and swiftly upraising his right arm, brought it down upon her heart

page 63 Madame, you know why I married you. It was that I might get you I into my power, break your proud heart, and then—murder you.’

As with brows bent and eyes glowering he ground out the last words, he drew from his breast a gleaming stiletto, and swiftly upraising his right arm, brought it down upon her heart. Stiffening herself as the delicate glittering blade flashed before her eyes. Eleanor stood her ground gamely, not a muscle quivering, though her lip curled a little. He drew back smiling. He had arrested the weapon as its point entered her bodice.

‘You are a true Rom,’ said he, in grim admiration. ‘Allow me to compliment you on your nerve, my sister.’

She stood erect, in silent disdain. With the sight of the weapon all her tremors had vanished.

Pardieu! ‘Tis almost a pity to shed such brave blood. The witch's daughter is worthy of her parentage. I am proud, ma chere, to claim blood relationship with you.’

A look of loathing was the sole response, and he went on with his deviltry.

‘Yes, ma belle, you would annul our marriage bond, but “the ties of nature can never be dissolved.” So said Monsieur Radcliffe when I solicited your hand.’

Eleanor had left surprise behind, and her only answer now was a calm stare.

‘You are composed, Madame. Let me tell you the story. We were sitting in this apartment. Mr Roger and I, and he had acknowledged our relationship. You had turned your back on me, but I loved as only a child of nature can, with a passion which burnt up my blood. I thought you his niece—for the old dye had told me naught to the contrary—but when I asked his consent to address you, he refused, because, forsooth, among Gentiles brothers and sisters marry not.’

Brothers and sisters!’ queried Eleanor, involuntarily, her eyes dilating at the diabolical meaning of his expression.

Oui, ma belle. Such was our dear relationship, though neither of us had guessed it, for Mr Roger Radcliffe was my father.’

Her white face crimsoned, her heart beat audibly, she gasped for breath.

His leer grew more fiendish. She was trembling now. ‘Devil!’ she articulated ‘Impostor! You are lying.’ He laughed maliciously.

‘Nay, pardieu! it is the truth, Madame. The old man would not consent, but I silenced his opposition with a potion the witch mother gave me—for she, too, owed him a vendetta—and the good doctors said it was apoplexy. Ha, ha! Then I married you, et pardieu, I begin to be proud of my wife, she is so hard to kill. Permit me one caress, ma chere—the last—for I must be going.’

He again approached, in his right hand the stiletto.

page 64

‘Stand off, monster! Touch me not!’ she almost screamed, recoiling, and seizing a bronze from the mantel, while her magnificent hair, which owing to megrim had been but loosely coiled, tumbled in heavy masses over her white-robed shoulders.

‘Brava! ma belle panthère——’

At that moment a knock at the door arrested the movements of both opened it.

‘A packet for my lady, marked immediate.’

‘Ha! What is this?’

Eleanor Comtesse De Pignerolles
with compliments.

Ma foi! Permit me, Madame, the honour of opening the packet,’ and in another instant the unfastened wrappings discovered a pretty casket in delicately illuminated vellum, and upon its cover a letter lying. He held the pretty toy before her temptingly. read the superscription of the letter, then with a strangely compounded expression playing over his dark face handed both over to her.

Mechanically she received them, and opening the letter, ran her bewildered eyes over its brief contents. Then, in a dazed yet excited way, she lifted the casket lid, and for some frightful seconds stood petrified with horror, for then amid snowy shavings, all stained and clotted with blood, lay a human heart transfixed by a slender silver stiletto.

Slowly she raised her head. The infernal glow in the demon face before her told its own tale. Her parched lips essayed to move, her all but paralysed tongue to speak:

‘Hellhound—this—this is your work!’ she articulated, hoarsely, and with a shriek which pierced to the chamber of the bedridden uncle and start led the domestics gossiping below stairs, she sank to the floor in strong convulsions, still grasping the pretty vellum casket, whose gory contents were scattered hither and thither as she fell.

* * * * * * * * *

‘It is nothing,’ said the master of Radcliffe Hall—for such he still was to the domestics—and his bland composure was reassuring. ‘Your mistress was alarmed by a wasp, that is all. Return to your duties; she requires nothing,’ and the venturesome enquirers who had hurried to offer assistance returned without even seeing their lady, who lay writhing unconsciously upon the library sofa, while her fiendish partner composedly prepared a small but potent draught intended to assuage all her sufferings.

He had never meant to shed her blood. That would have been t dangerous there in the library. A potion such as her father had swallowed was a much safer quietus. He mixed it carefully, administered page 65 it deliberately, and presently a gurgling in her throat assured him that his work of vengeance was complete.

Gathering up the ghastly contents of the casket, he carefully rewrapped and carried them away. Then, passing softly out of the hall door, entered a coach which had been long in waiting, and before dusk, that evening was chatting pleasantly to a fellow passenger on board the Calais mail packet.

‘Drive like the devil. Tom!’ he had said to the coachman on entering. ‘I have an appointments,’ and as the vehicle dashed off he lay back in the cushions and chuckled.

‘Well done, Jacques, mon ami. Thou hast bamboozled the whole crew. But haste thee now, for Pierre de Loup is on thy track, and the witch mother has found thee out. Ha! ha! They will both be too late. Thou wast an excellent tutor. Pierre, but thy pupil has outwitted thee. We were to divide the spoil, mon ami, but pardieu! I need it all, for thy impatience has lost me a fortune, le diabl, t' importe! A week longer, one little week, and the uncle would have been under the sod. But thy itching palms could not wait, it seems, perdition seize thee! And the witch has made discoveries. Would that I could have seen the she-devil when she found that her pretended nephew was a cheat, and all her good offices and precious documents thrown away upon a stranger, Ha, ha! It is an excellent comedy. But the last act was the best. Yet the girl bore herself well, and showed the spirit of the I Rom. 'Twas almost a pity—Bah! Jacques le Blanc! Art thou growing soft-hearted, thou? But she bore up well, saprisli! Yet the claim to kindred tried her. It was good to see her on the rack. Ha! ha! The credulity of these English. They never question. Ha! ha! She did question though, nom de chien! But that was the gipsy strain. Our people believe naught. She, However, believed like her of a father—when I said we were brother and sister. The credulous simpletons! Ha! ha! And she suffered, ay, suffered, la belle, painthers. But it was the last straw that did the business. Ha! That touched her. That Scabbed her proud heart, as I stabbed her accursed lovers, and as she scrupled not in her pride to stab mine. I was a menial, therefore a stock, a stone, a block of wood, without heart, without feeling, without the power of resentment. Ha! ha! Well, I have had my revenge. But, haste thee. Jacques. Thou hast still much to do. How slowly the coach moves—Faster. Tom, Faster!—Thou must change thy garb and thy mien, thy name and thy speech, mon ami, and get thee to Monaco, and break the bank ere Pierre le Loup can track thee, and then—Faster, Tom Faster!—then—come what will. What matter? Let us do what we will—eat, drink, lose, play, revenge—to-morrow we die. Bah! What is death? A long sleep. What comes after? Naught? Who cares for death? Not I. diableFaster, Tom, Faster!’

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He mixed it carefully, administered it deliberating, and presently a gurgling in her throat assured him that his work of vengrance was complete.

He mixed it carefully, administered it deliberating, and presently a gurgling in her throat assured him that his work of vengrance was complete.

14 A female gypsy.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

53 Firebrand.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

54 A slender rod-like dagger.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]